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The Top 10 Retro Game OSTs to Listen to Today

Last Updated on March 1, 2024

Music can be such a core element in any video game. I still listen to some of my favourite soundtracks even outside of gaming sessions. Finding a community of people that share the same appreciation for these soundtracks and detailing their memories of playing these games is something that is quite special in the retro gaming community and also for casual gamers.

That said, I would like to share my Top 10 list of my favourite video game OSTs between 2005-2010. Note that this list is not in any specific order or rank.

1) Sonic Rush (2005)

I have hyped extensively about the OST to this game, including in my review of it a few months back. Now, I can get into the real crux of why I love this soundtrack so much. Firstly, a little context is needed. The soundtrack was composed by Hideki Naganuma, who was also responsible for the OST in 2000s Jet Set Radio.

Naganuma brings this Electronic amalgamation of multiple genres to Sonic Rush which gives it an energetic and youthful edge that slots nicely into the realm of Sonic the Hedgehog. It provides a sense of urgency while staying captivatingly upbeat.Some of my personal favourites include ‘Back 2 Back’, “What U Need is Remix”, “A New Day” and “Right There, Ride On”.

I also have to address the ‘Blazy’ mixes that really encapsulate the idea that Sonic and Blaze are the simultaneously the same and different in their own respects.

2)  Mini Ninjas (2009)

The Mini Ninjas soundtrack was probably one of the first atmospheric OSTs I was introduced to as a kid. Peter Svarre, composer for Square Enix’s Gameglobe (2012), took the helm on this project. With a meditative and enchanting start to the game, Svarre captured the journey of a young ninja through its East Asian inspired chimes and flute-based pieces.

The music itself reflects the the story, starting with more tame and tranquil qualities and eventually transitioning into suspense and drama as Hiro encounters increasingly vicious foes. There is something so simple and charming about the music in Mini Ninjas.

My personal favourite pieces are Parts 1 and 4 with their steadiness of adventure and Part 8 picking up the pace as Hiro has to face vigorous rapids. I have yet to find a video game soundtrack quite like the structure of this one. 

3) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006)

For me, the Zelda series is nothing short of diverse and extraordinary when it comes to its music. However, there something special about Twilight Princess, the first game to introduce me to Zelda in general and its music.

With the game taking a gloomier approach than some of its predecessors, composers Toru Minegishi and Asuka Ota teamed up with the infamous Koji Kondo  and creating a collection that thrives from its melancholic yet heroic approach with occasional comforting and comical pieces that strike a thoughtful balance for a Zelda game.

The soundtrack revisits some familiar territory, including pieces such as ‘Sacred Grove’ being a reimagination of ‘Lost Woods’ from Ocarina of Time and ‘Zora’s Domain’ which includes more ethereal features compared to its previous version. The highlights for me include the wistful ‘Midna’s Lament’, the homely and welcoming ‘Ordon Village’ and the upbeat craziness that is ‘Malo Mart’ (I always loved that dance!)

What I adore about this soundtrack is that even though a piece may be more light-hearted in nature, the reminder of the ominous and mysterious tone of the game still creeps its way in at times which delivers consistency for the aura Twilight Princess emanates.

4) Professor Layton and the Lost Future (2008)

There’s no other game that makes me feel quite so sophisticated as a Professor Layton game and the music contributes to this feeling in such a carefully curated manner. Its European-inspired pieces have stuck with the series since its very beginning in Curious Village.

Whilst the accordion and strings were fairly prominent in previous instalments, the strings along add sharpness to the music that was previously more delicate in most cases. This soundtrack felt like real business!

Although it borrows tracks from previous games, such as ‘Professor Layton’s Theme’ returning as the Title theme for Lost Future, the layering of the accordion, piano and strings create a more weighty tone that reflects the extravagant story that unfolds in the game. It’s also important to note that at the time of release, this was initially planned as the final Professor Layton game in the series (with Spectre’s Call releasing to counteract this in 2009) and it does feel as though the game went all out for this reason, and the music is no exception.

The piece ‘London Streets’ delivers on the uncertainty of the situation and surroundings that Layton and Luke have fallen into with melodies and chords that leave things feeling unresolved. The waltzing ‘Searching for Clues’ doubles down on the seriousness. Then there’s ‘The Gilded 7 Casino’ that takes a new direction while still feeling very Layton with Bossa Nova and Jazz elements. ‘Chinatown’ brings the delicacy back into the series but keeping the uncertain perspective.

It makes locations feel as though they have their own identity which adds variety to the gameplay experience.

5) Sonic Unleashed (2008)

On the subject of locations and identity, the soundtrack to Sonic Unleashed feels right at home. In a game that sees Sonic travelling the globe, giving locations their own distinctiveness with sound is exactly what Tomoya Ohtani did when composing for this game.

The most prominent aspect of the music in this game is how it differs during day and night stages. Day stages with Sonic are rich with energy and like ‘Dragon Road Day’ or ‘Cool Edge Day’. Night stages with the Werehog are stealthy, which makes sense as the Werehog is meant to stay low profile. Tracks like ‘Windmill Isle Night’ and ‘Jungle Joyride Night’ are mysterious, often more orchestral focused or with a Jazz contrast to the day versions.

Although the music from the stages themselves are really solid pieces, my personal favourites occur outside of stages such as the whimsical ‘Gaia Gate’ and the Jaret Reddick’s vocal contribution ‘Endless Possibility’ which provides a very polished feel to the end of such an action-packed title.

6) Super Mario Galaxy (2007)

Nothing screams wholesome space vibes like the OST for Super Mario Galaxy. The first fully orchestrated Mario game really hit the ground running. From the grandiose orchestral segments to the wondrous and lullaby-like chimes in ‘Luma’, this soundtrack balanced grand adventure with heartfelt moments so charmingly.

Super Mario Galaxy’s music does what it says on the tin when it comes to matching its themes with the stages and moments in the story, but it does it in such a catchy way.‘Honeyhive Galaxy’, being one of my favourites, has a funky guitar riff that I now associate with bees. ‘Space Junk Galaxy’ incorporates comforting Lo-Fi sounds and ‘Gusty Garden Galaxy’ feels like the pinnacle of what Super Mario Galaxy is about with powerful brass to cheer on our heroic plumber.

I don’t think any Nintendo piece can make me feel colder than ‘Freezeflame Galaxy (Ice)’. These are just a very few of the beautifully-crafted pieces by Mahito Yokota and Koji Kondo.

7) Tetris DS (2006)

When you think of Tetris music, the first thing that may come to mind is that classic ‘Tetris theme’ which has been evolving since 1984. While that theme is no doubt an absolute earworm, Tetris DS did something to shake things up.

In 2006, the block-piling series collaborated with Nintendo’s most beloved IPs in one honorary crossover. The game saw big names like Mario, Zelda and Metroid take the limelight.

Being the first Tetris game I played, it introduced me to some of Nintendo’s most iconic music themes, but in a thrilling set of remixes. The Zelda and Mario themes were among my favourites. ‘Ancient Tetris’ is an urgent reimagining of the classic theme with ‘Fast Ancient’ only adding to the tension. 

8) Halo: Reach (2010)

As someone who isn’t a fan of first-person shooters, Halo: Reach broke past that barrier with its world-building, Sci-Fi story and aesthetics, and definitely through its music. With composition from series veterans Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, Halo Reach’s cinematic soundtrack expertly contrasts feelings of impending doom and grand adventure.

‘Overture’ is a definitive example of this. When a title or main theme is able to summarise the emanation of the entire game, it has succeeded in my book. ‘Winter Contingency’ pairs militaristic percussion with ethereal fluid choir and strings creating an element of danger in surreal territory. ‘Nightfall’ demonstrates just how dark and disturbing this soundtrack can get. ‘We Remember’ ends the journey with a steady rock added into the mix, providing an epic resolution. 

9) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Nothing else puts the drama into a visual novel about bizarre court cases quite like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney’s OST. Whether you’re out investigating or on the brink of the culprit’s breakdown, Masakazu Sugimori knows what’s needed to keep the player fully immersed in this world of wacky criminals and extraordinary lawyers.

Hearing ‘Courtroom Lobby’ for the first time drops its beat so boldly as Phoenix is struck with nerves. ‘Objection!’ is the feeling of victory as the pace picks up and ‘Pressing Pursuit – Cornered’ invites the reveal of the culprit’s true colours.

Music plays such an integral part in this game, especially during testimonies, where you know you’ve hit a contradiction when the music stops. ‘Turnabout Sisters Theme’ never fails to be undeniably uplifting becoming Maya’s dedicated theme later on. ‘Detention Center – Jailer’s Elegy’  emanates tragedy and pity over people who were wrongfully jailed. One fun and unforgettable favourite for myself is ‘The Steel Samurai’. 

10) Sonic and the Black Knight

I am unashamedly ending this list with another Sonic soundtrack, because I find its music so hard not to love. Sonic and the Black Knight welcomes back the beloved Crush 40 with gems such as ‘Fight the Knight and the game’s main theme song ‘Knight of the Wind’ which I have to listened too many times to try to count.

If Sonic wasn’t already a hardcore character enough, then being joined by a talking sword and accompanied by hard rock soundtrack only amplifies this. ‘Through the Fire’ embodies the fierceness under the pressure of constant enemy encounters.

My favourite instrumental for those merciless challenges has to be Jun Senoue and Tommy Tallarico’s ‘Molten Mine’. 

About the author

I am a media and pop culture enthusiast and love Nintendo and indie games, particularly Zelda and Stardew Valley. When I'm not gaming you'll find me writing, creating fanart, and playing music covers of my favourite games!

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